September 07, 2014

State of Military Might in Resurgent India

Col (Retd) Karan Kharb

Powerful nations radiate powerful influence far across their geographical borders over countries and continents. And this influence is mostly coercive – often disregarding opinions of a majority of sovereign nations. President Bush was brazenly explicit in conveying his threat even to friendly countries when he said, "If you are not with us, you are against us." The world has watched in the recent decades how a couple of powerful nations have not felt deterred from launching punitive operations against unfriendly regimes. Ongoing conflicts in West Asia and Central Asia are glaring examples of this reality.

Much as the weaker nations might despise such arrogance of mighty nations, the latter have been succeeding in enforcing their plans, even if partially, in different parts of the world. In the realm of geopolitics, it is clear that the powerful nations use a combination of soft power and coercive power to achieve compliance, cooperation and, wherever possible, even submission of targeted regimes. Effect of soft power is enhanced manifold if it is backed by credible hard power, that is, military power that gives meaning to diplomacy, strategy, trade and economy. If wealth alone were power, West Asia would be ruling the world. If geographical size were power, Russia would be Power Number One and the Soviet Union would not have disintegrated. Irrefutably, it is the Military Might that adds awe and aura to a nation's standing in the regional and international equations. Israel would simply not exist today if it were not so. Today its utterance and posturing shakes up the neighbourhood and makes the world sit up and listen to it – their consent or dissent just don't seem to matter.
Even so, in the reckoning of military might, an array of high technology, sophisticated fighting machines and equipment – an area where critical deficiencies have seriously hampered the Indian Army's modernisation programme – is but one factor, significantly weighty though. The man behind the gun, however, shall always be the decisive factor in projecting and executing this military might. No amount of modern technology and wherewithal can substitute human – the soldier whose wellness makes the ultimate difference between victory and defeat in war. Modern world's high-tech protective gear, high precision weaponry, satellite communication systems, computerisation and nano-tech breakthroughs will deliver little until the user is motivated to dare adversity and danger. Napoleon accorded three times more value to the soldier's morale vis-à-vis material. In 1993, when the Government expressed inability to finance raising of the Rashtriya Rifles, Gen B P Joshi relied on military morale and raised the Force equipping and manning it from the existing manpower and equipment of the Indian Army. Again, at the outset of Kargil War, it was this intangible but enormous asset of military morale that prompted the Army Chief, Gen VP Malik to say, "…..we will fight with whatever is available….," despite critical deficiencies of arms and equipment.

Traditionally, military personnel are not expected to demand favours nor admit weakness. Enquire about his 'morale' and even a dying soldier would spring up and scramble to fight. The same is true of his commanders too. No unit or formation commander would ever confess a decline in morale or erosion of spirit de corps in the Forces no matter how pathetic their state might be. On an expedition – war or adventure – Indian soldiers have never sought rest, comfort or even food until it is all over! Little wonder, Kautilya whom the world knows more popularly as Chanakya, had cautioned King Chandragupta, "The day the soldier has to demand his dues will be a sad day for Magadha for then, on that day, you will have lost all moral sanction to be King!" Edicts in Atharvaveda (Kaand 4/Anuvakah 7/Sukta 31 & 32) and Kautilya's Arthashastra (Sangram/10th Adhikaran/Ch 3) also underscore a powerful advice to Governments, "To win wars, influence neighbouring states and to promote his national interests, the King must build up an Army of soldiers so honoured, privileged and motivated that their wrath unnerves the enemy; their sacrifices beget love and respect of their own people; and their valour is rewarded with the highest esteem and admiration by the King and his ministers."

In the post Kargil period, however, the military morale has been sadly on a downhill slide as is manifestly evident from the increasing cases of soldiers committing suicides, fratricides, insubordination and defiance. Sporadic cases of mutiny in the last decade or so have raised many serious questions on the military management. What is even more shocking is that such incidents are not confined to units deployed in operational areas alone. Angst against exploitation and injustice to their families back home has been driving soldiers to suicide and fragging even in peace locations. Answering a question in the Rajya Sabha on 22 Jul 2014, Defence Minister Arun Jaitley admitted that suicides among security personnel of the armed forces were a serious issue. He informed the House that the Armed Forces had lost 597 personnel to suicide in the last five years (that is, at a rate of 10 soldiers every month or 120 every year). He also revealed that 1,349 officers quit the Army during the same period. And while the Army bears the brunt, this dangerous trend is shared by all three wings of the Armed Forces.

Causes for this onset of decay are many. For decades, a perception of 'raw deal' by the successive pay commissions has been allowed to grow in the Armed Forces by governmental neglect. Denial of growth opportunities, unfair salary and pension fixation, erosion of status, dilution of military privileges and isolation of military from decision-making process even in matters of national defence, security and welfare of military personnel are some of the sores that have festered over the years. Provisions such as preferential hearing of soldiers' cases by civil administration and courts exist only on papers now and many district magistrates, police officers and judges are either not aware or remain deliberately callous in attending to genuine problems of soldiers and their families. Subsidised canteen facilities, medical facilities, military quota, field allowances and numerous other privileges that were once unique to military have been systematically usurped and multiplied by the civil services and politicians. Compare stocks and prices in Parliament House canteen or any other departmental canteen in Government offices and military canteens to know the difference. Today, AC suites in the state guest houses and Bhavans in New Delhi's Chanakyapuri are available to politicians at Rs 45 per day with sumptuous non-veg dinner for Rs 130 per diner whereas Army officers passing through Delhi are gratified after paying Rs 500 or more for a room in a Delhi Cantt officers mess – if they get one at all!

Persistent representation on pay commission anomalies by the Services Headquarters to the MoD and Prime Minister yielded no positive result from the UPA Government even as hordes of anguished Ex-servicemen staged protests returning their service medals over non-grant of one-rank-one-pension (OROP). What is even more frustrating is that while both the Governments – UPA and NDA – had declared their approval and decision to implement OROP, no tangible gain has fructified yet.
The need to maintain a youthful profile of the Armed Forces implies that a large number of JCOs and other ranks retire from the service at an early age of 35-48 years. Likewise, a majority of commissioned officers also retire between 52-54 years of age. This period is the most crucial phase in the life of the retiring personnel since the burden of family and social responsibilities is heaviest on a man at such a juncture. Increasing expenses on ailing parents, education and marriage of children, separation from family and a host of other responsibilities suddenly surround the retiring soldier. There are no second-career opportunities, no assured lateral absorption in government services nor is there any satisfactory rehabilitation scheme for hordes of youthful retiring service personnel.

Unlike Civil Services, career progression in military narrows sharply as one advances in the service. With each successive promotion, the pyramid becomes narrower because in a unit of 800 personnel there can be only one Subedar Major who will occupy this position for 3-4 years. Likewise, there can be only one Chief and seven Army Commanders at the top who shall serve 2-3 years, implying thereby that only eight out of every set of 3000 officers can aspire to reach these levels no matter how competent the remaining are. Whereas nearly 90 per cent IAS officers make it to secretary/additional secretary level, only 0.003 per cent officers in the armed forces reach that level. The reason for mass screening out, unfortunately, is not incompetence or disqualification on grounds of merit but the scarce vacancies at the top. On the contrary, no civil servant retires without reaching the top pay scale in his stream, no matter how incompetent one might be. In such a situation, no cadre deserved a service compensation like 'non-functional upgrade' (NFU) more than the Armed Forces. Here ironically again, only civil service officers are granted NFU. There is no reason why such compensatory dispensation should be selectively granted to the civil services and denied to the soldiery.

The long awaited and direly needed modernisation programme of the Armed Forces has remained mired in the complex procurement processes and bureaucratic red tape at the MoD and departments. Instances of corruption in some cases have vitiated the processes even further. As per a report tabled by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence, Army's modernisation programme has been declining steadily and ominously. A mere 27 paisa out of every rupee was being spent on capital expenditure (CAPEX) during 2008-09. It slid to 18 paisa per rupee by 2013-14. Narendra Modi's arrival as India's Prime Minister did boost aspirations of strategists and thinkers within and outside the Armed Forces. For once, it appeared that in its quest for a global role India could now embark upon a 'transformation programme' repositioning the military from its defensive and counter-offensive posturing to the level of a potent fearsome war waging force capable of enforcing peace and deterring hegemonic adventures in South Asia and neighbourhood. Even as Arun Jaitley might seem overburdened as a Minister with two major portfolios – Defence and Finance, he is also the most suited man with acumen and understanding of both vis-à-vis the India's strategic interests and military requirements. He will need to start streamlining the systems within the MoD itself.

Today the situation is dismal. The armour and the mechanised infantry remain equipped with obsolete or no night fighting capabilities. Only a small number of units have adequate night fighting capability. Deficiencies in armour ammunition including war wastage reserve have already reached critical levels. With no gun inducted ever since Bofors, artillery is ageing fast too. With no spares available, requirements are being met by 'cannibalising' – an emergency recourse that has reduced effectiveness by half. The state of army air defence is even worse. A major part of the main AD equipment is obsolete and inferior to what is being acquired by our adversaries. L-70, Zu23-2B and ZSU23-4B (Schilka) guns are from 1960s vintage. AD missile units are equipped with Igla 1M, Strela 10M, OSA AK and Kvadrat missiles – all obsolescent in the wake of more advanced and effective systems like Spider (Israel), S-400 (Russia) and Patriot (US) available in the international market. Army Aviation is similarly carrying on with obsolete Cheetah and Chetak helicopters. New acquisition of 197 helicopters is stuck even four years after trials and re-valuation of Russian Kamov 226 and Eurocopter AS 550 models.

For the infantry soldier, the indigenously designed INSAS rifle has proved to be inferior to the modern assault rifles being acquired by our adversaries. Critical deficiencies hampering infantry soldier's combat potential include carbines, GPMG, anti-material rifles, anti-mine boots, lightweight bulletproof jackets, bulletproof helmets, third gen NVDs, anti-mine vehicles, snow scooters and new generation grenades.

One major reason why the situation is so dismal is the procurement procedure itself. In the high-tech high-speed digital age today, it takes as much as 3-4 years to have a procurement proposal approved because such proposals have to pass through a maze of tortuous processes involving more than 15 departments and agencies. "Expeditious processing also will take at least 48 months for a project to be approved," says a senior IAS officer who retired early this year from MoD. How this bureaucratic lethargy is taking toll of life and equipment is evident from the increasing loss of combat aircraft, war ships and submarines. Official callousness has become so frustrating that a meritorious Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral DK Joshi resigned in anger owning responsibility that lay at someone else's desk for the repeated mishaps in submarines and ships. Ill-equipped men pushed into operations are either committing suicide, killing their colleagues or seniors in sheer frustration.

Perhaps for the first time in post-independence India, political parties realised the value of military personnel and ex-servicemen but only during the few months preceding general elections. All parties attempted to placate soldiers and ex-servicemen with a view to winning their support and vote during the recent Lok Sabha elections. Utterances from the Bharatiya Janata Party and Narendra Modi himself, however, seemed more reassuring. They indicated evidence of strategic vision and understanding of military requirements and the plight of serving soldiers and ex-servicemen. In his maiden budget speech, Defence and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley eloquently declared in Lok Sabha, "There can be no compromise with the defence of our country. I therefore propose to allocate an amount of 2,29,000 crore for the current financial year for Defence.... Modernization of the Armed Forces is critical to enable them to play their role effectively in the Defence of India's strategic interests." Thus, it would be fair to assume that the present Government is sincerely sensitive and alive to military requirements and the country's strategic needs. In the initiation of defence reforms, it would be prudent to start from revamping the MoD so as to weave military expertise in the policy-decision mechanism at all levels of defence, security and strategic planning and coordination.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has shown his thrust lines fairly clearly. India enjoys a loathsome distinction as the world's biggest importer of military hardware with a trail of defence procurement scams. Castigating this state of affairs, Modi indicated his vision when he said, "If we indigenised defence production and opened it up for FDI, we could save enormously on our foreign exchange outflows. This would enable us to utilise such savings for the welfare of jawans besides putting an end to the endemic corruption in defence procurements." Besides a forward-looking political leadership, India now has some seasoned bureaucrats and Services Chiefs imbued with professional competence and understanding of vital necessities of national defence objectives. Prime Minister Modi has everything that a PM could ask for: a thumping mandate of the people, a loyal cabinet that has no visible fissures, a team of competent professionals with proven credentials to aid and advise him, and a Military eager to achieve his national and global objectives. Only, it needs immediate resuscitation and intensive re-invigorative programme to be able to give effect to the Prime Minister's overtures at BRICS summit, relations with SAARC countries and India's role in the region. India was perhaps never poised better to refurbish and lubricate its military might for bigger global roles.

The setting is perfect for the much needed transformation of the Armed Forces by revamping MoD and by making soldiery an attractive, prestigious career for the youth of the country.
(The writer is a military veteran, author and social activist)

No comments: